Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - March 2019

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Lesson Room Guitar Amp Conundrum?

I have a conundrum.

 I've been using a pair of little rinky-dink practice amps for lessons effectively all of my life.  They're both suffering from bad input jacks and noisy channel switches.  It's time to replace them.

 I've thought it not necessary to bother with anything more elaborate.  If I can't make a little amp sound good then what's the point?  The student may or may not have anything better at home, it's a "realistic" playing environment.

 The problem is that with these little $100 2 channel amps is that I'm having to lean over and adjust the volume multiple times in every lesson.  Students have a variety of single coil or high output humbuckers, Les Pauls with P-90s or a big Gretsch with Filtertrons, or anything in between.  Their ouput levels vary wildly, as does their frequency spectrum.

 I should have just gotten a volume pedal to do this, but that's still kinda tweaky.

 So what I've thought is:

 Shouldn't I have a pair of amps with presets set up for not just level differences (single coil/humbucker) but also a variety of tones?


 I've got a Boss Katana 50, which while fairly satisfactory tone wise, it doesn't do a particularly accurate job representing specific amps/recorded tones.  Not only that, it only saves 4 presets, of which Boss/Roland has decided to put into separate banks.

 A pair of them would be limited to a bank for single coil guitars, clean/dirty, and humbuckers, clean/dirty.  The annoying part here is that Roland has so limited their patch arrangement from a pedal standpoint that this is only using a tiny aspect of the amp's potential.

 Yes, I could run them off a laptop for patch changes.  Again, the problem is that the Roland software is so fiddly that it would not be practical, requiring a lot of scrolling, selecting.

 In effect I would only have doubled my amp capability to a selection for single/double coils.  So the practical, pragmatic part of my brain (that short circuits many schemes...) says "you may as well just have the cheapo 2 channel amps and a volume pedal".  A waste of money?

 A semi-obvious solution might be "Line 6 Spider".  The Line 6 stuff is fun, you can dial in a pretty accurate representation of a Famous Sound - but it's just that for the most part.  I'm not familiar with the new Spider V line, having only played through one very briefly.   My reservations about this route is that they sound "detached", and generally have an overriding resonant frequency that is prevalent across all of the settings that, once you hear it, becomes... very annoying. 

 Additionally, they do not respond linearly to input like the gear they're supposedly emulating.  In my experience you're forced to play harder, to the "top" of the preset sound that is modeling one preset level.  I've found this can be worked around a bit by using a gain stage-distortion before the amp, but... uhg.

 In this scenario, I would have plenty of patch choices, but it would be fairly pricey since Line 6 has chosen to use a proprietary pedal board interface (instead of MIDI).  The pedal board for each amp would be almost as much as the amps.

 But, I could just step on a button when the student comes in with a Strat after the student with a humbucking Schecter leaves.  I could also choose more specific tones depending on the music.  I'd also have an easy "mute" button (not to be underestimate in importance...).


 Or I could just get another pair of little Fender Champ 20 amps, keep being over to twiddle level and settings every... single... lesson... for another...10 years.

A pair of Katanas - limited switching, more tolerable sound.
A pair of Line 6 Spider Vs - perfect switching, more expensive, maybe aggravating sound?
A pair of Fender Champ 20s - cheap, practical, ok sound.

 Odd man-out choices would be a pair of Monoprice Laney Cub-clones.  Very nice sound, but still manual switching, AND more limiting because the nicer sound is more limited to the nature of the sound itself.  It is not neutral.

 Computer-VST: this would be great, except - very clunky switching arrangement, and the sound would be coming through the same speakers I'm using to hear the music I'm having to transcribe.  Which makes things more difficult.  There is also the latency issue, unless I got a Specifically Fast Computer and Bus Based Interface.

One of the Cheap Pedal-Combo Solutions: more cabling, difficult preset arranging, still need a pair of amps.

Yamaha THR based amp:  I have one of these at home.  I think they're great for a very portable amp+computer interface.  The downside is that the tiny speakers means they sound... tiny.   And while it has 5 presets, they're only accessible by tiny buttons on the amp itself.  But the big fault of this amp is that there is no speaker out: I've got a pair of Marshal 1x12 cabs I could use at my office, but I would have to tear the amp apart and literally modify it to have a speaker output to make that work.

 And it would still be pressing one of 5 buttons with a finger for a preset.

Unknowns would be the Vox AVR "analog modeling" amps I've not heard (but I think aren't foot switchable), Peavey Vipre (I don't really hold out much for those), Blackstar modeling amps (which sound kinda bad online)(foot switchable?), and any number of options that are wayyyy beyond my budget.

 I'm going to be using my little sketchy "broke power switch Crate" and "bad-channel switch Blackstar HT1" for the next few weeks.  My nerves will continue to be ground down dealing with these, and I should just commit to one of the above now, but... I much cogitate and ruminate on the Best Most Logical Option some more.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Are You Rhythm, Melody or Harmony Centric?

 I get to know the music tastes of all of my students.  People are very varied in their personalities and quirks (a good thing), but there are categories of preferences I've noticed over the years that can classify a person in a general sense relative to these elements:


 A "rhythm-centric" person  is someone that looks first and foremost for music that doesn't stray too far from a particular rhythm or beat. 

 For instance, one might like "blues" but favor the Austin / SRV rhythms, or maybe the cajun/New Orleans types of beats.  Alternately more "traditional" rhythms may be preferred, and one tends to choose artists based on how they work within the limits of those rhythms, or how far away they stray from that (or not).

 Metal and rap music fans tend to fall into this category.  Rap for obvious reasons, it's segmented based on the beat, but in metal the seemingly endless sub genres tend to be based around favored drum beats.  In both genres, the sub-genre one prefers has demarcation based on very rigid opinions regarding the historic context of the rhythm.  This is important to consider, because in my experience it's all about "is this "new" or not?".

 A "melody-centric" person isn't too concerned about the genre that the melody is in.  This person's taste will not be genre specific (even if they initially thing so...).  A country song, a classic rock song, maybe even a classical theme. 

 The "harmony-centric" person needs the context to have a harmonic structure that stands out.  Either a strong layered vocal part, or an extended chord as it's basis.  This person will tend towards progressive music, or jazz, as they are listening for the interplay of voice leading through changes as being the entertainment.  Or they may prefer 7th or 9nth based music instead of basic triads. 

 There can be crossover between the above, and what might at first seem like one is dominant upon closer inspection that may not be the case.  A person might be a jazz fan, and not realize they like certain chord layering in metal.   A metal fan might not realize they're actually drawn to melody - in any genre, apart from the rhythmic context. Or they may actually prefer harmonic arrangements in jazz.  A blues-rhythm fan may not notice at first the blues rhythmic context of traditional jazz (or vice-versa, as happens a lot).

 One doesn't have to necessarily be any of the above, but I think self-examination along those lines would be eye opening for some people who may think of themselves as preferring one genre.  There is brilliance and genius to be found in all genres, and experiencing that is fun and rewarding. If you understand what you tend to prefer in the above, it can be interesting to see where that interest can cross into other genres in unexpected ways.